December 19, 2014

Man without technology ... is not man

Any stretch of time that deserves a name of its own--an age, an era, an epoch--must have at least a few distinct characteristics that make it stand out from the past. The problem is that all the features that the Khannas invoke to emphasize the uniqueness of our era have long been claimed by other commentators for their own unique eras. The Khannas tell us that "technology no longer simply processes our instructions on a one-way street. Instead, it increasingly provides intelligent feedback." How is that different from Daniel Boorstin's bombastic pronouncement in 1977 that "the Republic of Technology where we will be living is a feedback world"? And the Khannas' admonition that "rather than view technology and humanity as two distinct domains, we must increasingly appreciate the dense sociotechnical nexus in which they constantly shape each other"--how is this different from what Ortega y Gasset wrote more eloquently in 1939: "Man without technology ... is not man"?

The idea of hybridity that the Khannas assume to be their sexy and original insight has been with us for a long time--long before social media and biotechnology. While some dismiss such theorists of hybridity as Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway, who have questioned the epistemological foundations of the modern scientific enterprise, as being on the wrong side of the Science Wars, hybridity is by no means a postmodernist idea. Here is Daniel Callahan--a respected bioethicist who can hardly be accused of PoMo transgressions-- writing in 1971: "We have to do away with a false and misleading dualism, one which abstracts man on the one hand and technology on the other, as if the two were quite separate kinds of realities.... Man is by nature a technological animal; to be human is to be technological.... When we speak of technology, this is another way of speaking about man himself in one of his manifestations."

-- Evgeny Morozov

December 6, 2014

Obsessed life facilitated by technology

Tech is fun now, deliriously so, but this fun comes with a built-in anxiety that it must lead to more. As an engineer, coding should be your calling, not just a job, so you are expected to also do it in your time off. Interviewers will ask about side projects -- a Firefox browser add-on maybe, or an Android version of your favorite iPhone app -- which are supposed to indicate your overflowing enthusiasm for building software.

Tech colloquialisms have permeated every aspect of life -- hack your diet, your fitness, your dates -- yet in reality, very little emphasis is placed on these activities. In a place with one of the best gender-ratios in the country for single women, female friends I talk to complain that most of the men are, in fact, not available; they are all busy working on their start-ups, or data-crunching themselves. They have prioritized self-improvement and careers over relationships.

-- Yiren Lu

November 30, 2014

'crackdown' on corruption, Chinese style

The most recent 'crackdown' on corruption was launched with great fanfare by the new administration of the Chinese president Xi Jinping. But it has gone after such easy targets as hospitality budgets, official vehicles and foreign trips, while the real muscle has gone into hunting down dissidents, whistle-blowers and journalists who might actually threaten the powerful.

As with anti-corruption campaigns of the past, mistresses make a convenient distraction. They feed the public appetite for scandal without challenging the way China's power networks operate. The popular media portrays mistresses as 'beauty attracting disaster', and speaks of their 'evil, poisonous nature', as if the poor officials would never have tasted the apple of corruption without a woman to lure them on.